Following on from last November’s publication of Emerson, Lake and Palmer – Official Illustration Book, Rocket 88 have produced arguably an even better book with Keith Emerson – The Official Illustrated Story, which would be the perfect Christmas gift for any ELP or Keith Emerson fans out there still keeping the flame alive.
Written by Chris Welch, the renowned Melody Maker writer who knew Keith for over 50 years, it is a lavish fully illustrated book in which Keith’s family, friends, colleagues, and fans talk about his life and work, from The Nice and ELP, through 3, and finally to The Keith Emerson Band. As a result, it provides a deeply personal, informative and at times moving insight into the great man and his musical legacy.
Chris tells Keith’s story in six chapters: Scherzo, Allegro, Concerto, Symphony, Fugue and Anthem, with the relevant interview excerpts from contributors, all illustrated throughout with previously unseen colour and black and white photographs from family, friends, and professional photographers. There are new interviews with Keith’s children, his ex-wife, close personal friends, Mari Kawaguchi, Carl Palmer, Rick Wakeman, Lee Jackson, Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, Alan White, Dave Kilminster, Marc Bonilla, Rachel Flowers, Darius Brubeck, Geoff Downes and Steve Howe, among many others.
The journey starts with Keith’s birth in 1944 in Tormorden, West Yorkshire, and his childhood days in Worthing, moving through his early musical experiences in the ’60s with T-Bone Walker and the London music scene, then on to The Nice – who were initially the backing musicians for PP Arnold, but then became successful artists in their own right.
Most of the book focuses on the glory years of Emerson Lake and Palmer, and Carl Palmer and the band’s manager Stewart Young provide a fresh insight into that gloriously heady period of progressive rock in the ’70s. The solo and band work that followed (and the subsequent ELP reunions, through to their final High Voltage festival appearance in 2010) are all covered well and provide a fascinating narrative to Keith’s life.
However, even more rewarding are the personal recollections of family and friends, as Keith’s physical and mental health issues gradually developed over time, leading to his tragic suicide in 2016. No amount of interviews and words can ever be expected to reveal the full story behind those final years, but this book certainly makes a bold attempt to do so and provides an emotional perspective to counterpoint the musical and theatrical exuberance and mischievous humour that Keith brought to so many lives. The many anecdotes and candid observations certainly add to the story and Chris has selected them well – alongside providing the reader with a time-based narrative to follow.
As with Rocket 88’s previous ELP publication, this is another ‘coffee table’ book. Large in size, with glossy pages of large text and engaging photographs spaced about them. No discography, album reviews, lists of tour dates or musical analysis here; there are other books out there that will satisfy that requirement. However, for fans of ELP – and Keith in particular – the expense of the 208-page hardback ‘Classic’ edition is well justified. For those with deeper pockets, there is a boxed signature edition, signed by Chris Welch and Aaron Emerson and with many extras for the ELP aficionado.
For many, Keith’s full and varied musical life was an integral part of their own musical journey, and his genius continues to resonate to this day. This book is a fitting testament to him. I end this review with some words from the author himself, Chris Welch:
“Wherever Keith Emerson went a piano was never far away. Keith’s keyboards were his happiest mode of communication with the world. When his fingers flashed over the black and white keys, that’s when he would look up, smile and be at his most contented and fulfilled…
“Keith was a daring, innovative, gifted virtuoso master of the keys with a breadth of knowledge about many different genres of the music he loved. As the many family members, musicians and compatriots who have joined together in helping create this unique tribute to Keith will attest, he was also charming, witty, and caring. Much loved and admired, his engaging personality won him friends from many different walks of life.”